Thornton-le-Dale: New parish councillors pledge to end feud which has torn picturesque Yorkshire village apart - despite 'trivial' electoral fraud investigation

Hopes for the future of a parish council which suspended all activities amid acrimonious scenes are brighter, it has been claimed, following the election of a group of councillors dedicated to ending a feud between villagers.

Five residents running under the collective banner of A Better Thornton le Dale secured between 415 and 566 votes each in a public poll run by North Yorkshire Council on Thursday.

They overcame a challenge from an independent candidate, who attracted 233 votes, to form a new-look Thornton le Dale Parish Council with two members of the authority who did not resign after a tempestuous meeting in July.

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The meeting, which generated similar social media interest seen after Jackie Weaver voiced her views at Handforth Parish Council during the pandemic, saw councillors in the picturesque North York Moors village clash over whether to abide by the results of a public poll calling to dissolve the council.

The famous 'chocolate box' thatched cottage in Thornton-le-Dale in the North York MoorsThe famous 'chocolate box' thatched cottage in Thornton-le-Dale in the North York Moors
The famous 'chocolate box' thatched cottage in Thornton-le-Dale in the North York Moors

However, it has emerged North Yorkshire Police has this week upheld a resident’s complaints about election leaflets for the A Better Thornton le Dale candidates.

A police fraud investigator found two breaches of electoral law on the leaflets, including an incorrect address of Westfield instead of Westgate and the omission of the group promoter’s name, added “letters of advice” had been issued to those responsible.

When asked if North Yorkshire Council was content with the conduct of the election, a senior officer said the use of names and addresses on campaign material was a police matter.

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Nevertheless, it is understood some residents have questioned whether those elected should stand down over the breaches.

The A Better Thornton le Dale group of councillorsThe A Better Thornton le Dale group of councillors
The A Better Thornton le Dale group of councillors

One of the new councillors, Phil Barratt, said the election result represented an opportunity for a fresh start for the village following “toxic” exchanges between some residents.

He said: “We are going to be very much focused on a move towards a positive direction. It’s reassuring that the folk of the village have got a voice and are prepared to use it and they should hold people accountable.”

The group has pledged to hold a series of consultation meetings over the winter with residents and community groups, build a new parish plan and work with the two remaining parish councillors “in a cooperative, professional manner”.

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Referring to the election leaflet complaint, Coun Barratt said: “Our police service are extremely busy and I’m sure they were delighted to receive the complaint with regards to such a trivial matter.

“It was a genuine mistake. It hasn’t had any detrimental effect on the proceedings. The spirit of the legislation is to enable people to get into contact with candidates or the agent to ask questions.

“People are entitled to hold anybody accountable.”

North Yorkshire councillor Janet Sanderson said she believed the future of the parish council was brighter, with a strong mandate due to 2,537 votes cast and 41.85 per cent turnout for the election.

She said she the election had cleared the way for the parish council to overhaul the way it worked with the public, using grant funding for a new parish plan.

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Coun Sanderson added while North Yorkshire Council had approved a Parish Charter, to set out how parish councils would interact with the unitary authority, it had not had time to become embedded yet.

She said: “I think the future is really positive. The public has lost confidence with the parish council, but there is a history of dozens of committees doing fantastic things for the village and of only one failing.”

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